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Focus / Odin Dragonfly

Fibbers, York

18 October 2005

I was a bit surprised when I arrived at Fibbers to find the doors locked and only three people in the queue. Maybe Focus aren't that popular any more, but come on, four of us? It got even more worrying when Thijs van Leer turned up, looked through the windows, hammered on the door, and walked off again!

The mystery was solved when it became apparent that the time of 7.30 on the ticket meant doors open, not show start. And when the show finally started at 8.00 the crowd size was a bit more respectable.

Fibbers isn't a bad venue at all. It's a long, low room with the stage at one end. Most of the floor is empty, standing only, with just a few chairs and tables at the edge and a bar half way down one side. And it suffers the same problem as all venues with bars, which is that theres always an annoying crowd who are there to talk and drink and won't shut up when the band is on. Bah.

Being third through the door, and not bothering with the bar, meant I could get a spot right up against the stage barrier, about two feet from the bands. Right-hand side, naturally. Although this actually put me behind the speaker stacks, which stuck out from the stage, so I moved back about three feet to get a better sound when the first band came on. (And I still had a perfect view of them because everyone else was back at the bar.) There didn't seem to be anything about not using cameras, so I got a few decent photos.

I suppose I should mention the support bands.

First was a new band called Odin Dragonfly, which consists of two women: one sang and played acoustic guitar, the other one sang and played keyboard and flute. (I don't think they actually gave their names!) Now it's probably not a secret that I'm rather fond of flutes, so I was quite happy with this combination. Both have beautiful voices and both are very good with their instruments. If I had one complaint, its that they were actually over-amplified — I think they would have suited a venue where they didn't have to compete with the bar crowd and could have played a "proper" acoustic set. Their set lasted about 35 minutes and included Steal Away, The Eyes of the Forest, Bitterness Burnt, Caught in a Fold, a Jethro Tull song (Witch's Promise, unless Im very much mistaken), and two or three other (new) songs that I unfortunately don't recall the names of (one was called Give it Time, or something like that, and was most Divinely sung). Overall I was very impressed. This is a band I definitely want to see again. And they said they were part of another band, too. Called Mostly Autumn, or something like that... [Photographs] Pictures

In the middle of the bill was John Young, who Im not at all familiar with. He sings (very well) and plays the keyboard, and is accompanied by the rest of his band on a backing tape. Im not sure about the backing tape idea, it seems to lack a bit of spontaneity, but he played an enjoyable 45-minute set. It's well-polished rock that reminded me a bit of Asia. It's someone I wouldn't mind hearing again but I wasn't inspired enough to buy a CD.

After a very brief wait, Focus wandered casually on to the stage and played 100 minutes of stunning instrumental virtuosity, crammed with jams and solos and so many jaw-dropping moments that I can't even begin to describe it. I honestly wasn't prepared for how good these guys are live, and now I really regret waiting so long to see them. I also wasn't prepared for how loud they are live! I was expecting some laid-back jazz and instead got something that rocked so hard it left my ears numb afterwards — and yet they still managed moments of sublime, laid-back jazz improvisation.

It didn't feel like Thijs van Leer with some backing musicians, as I had half expected. All four band members are incredible musicians, all get their time in the spotlight, and they all work solidly together. And they all look like they're enjoying themselves; like they realise that their music is fun even when it's mind-bogglingly clever. And that makes the whole show really entertaining.

And they are all so good. I don't know how to convey what incredible musicians they are. Just when you think you've seen the best that rock music can offer, along comes a jazz musician who's so good it's silly...

Set list? Im not very good at putting names to instrumentals but I think we got House of the King, Focus II, Eruption, Hamburger Concerto, Cathedral de Strasbourg, possibly Angel Wings (?), and a few more I can't name (some of which will be on their next album, which van Leer moans is taking too long to produce). The set closed with Hocus Pocus, which may be the fastest piece of music Ive ever seen played (and featured the novel experience of an audience yodel-along), with Sylvia for a brief encore.

It was all over much too quickly, leaving Focus as another band to add to my must-see-again list. [Photographs] Pictures